Millard C. Farmer oral history interview, 2012-07-13

Social Change Collection
Millard C. Farmer oral history interview, 2012-07-13
Farmer, Millard
Contributor to Resource:
Fowlkes, Diane L., 1939-
Atlanta, Ga. : Georgia State University Library
Date of Original:
Women Lawyers
Capital punishment
Criminal defense lawyers
Procedure (Law)
Team Defense Project
Criminal Justice Coordinating Council (Ga.)
Farmer, Millard
Mullin, Courtney J.
United States, Georgia, Fulton County, Atlanta, 33.749, -84.38798
oral histories (literary works)
Born in 1934, noted death penalty defense attorney Millard C. Farmer, Jr. grew up in Newnan, Georgia. A University of Georgia graduate (1956), he worked in the family business and attended Woodrow Wilson College of Law during the evenings. He was admitted to the Georgia Bar in 1967, built a successful practice in Newnan, and was a co-founder of the Bank of Coweta there. Farmer also represented disadvantaged clients, and came to question whether African American defendants could be tried fairly before all-white juries. By 1970, he and his associates were challenging jury composition on the grounds of race. In 1976, he co-founded the Team Defense Project (TDP) with social psychologist Courtney J. Mullin and Morris Dees of the Southern Poverty Law Center. TDP was dedicated to the representation of indigent persons in death penalty cases and enjoyed many high-profile successes in the 1970s and 1980s, notably the case of the “Dawson Five” in Dawson, Georgia. Most of Farmer and Team Defense Project’s work was intended to bring attention to the inequities in the way capital punishment is used, and many of TDP’s litigation strategies, such as jury composition challenges and motion filings it developed, have become widely adopted tactics. Farmer and his colleagues taught and lectured on these strategies to numerous legal groups and audiences. An acknowledged expert in capital cases, Farmer has also represented clients bringing racial discrimination suits. He has received numerous honors from legal and civil liberties advocacy organizations.
Farmer explains how unexpected events often changed the Team Defense strategy. He describes growing up in a segregated and sexist society. He recounts hiring Amanda Potterfield as an intern and being impressed by her interpersonal skills in dealing with all types of people. He notes how a judge could better understand a female lawyer’s explanation of the rights of women and children. He describes conducting seminars on how to file motions outside the normal boundaries to raise social issues and was sometimes met with hostile reactions by lawyers. He describes in more detail his decision to join Georgia Criminal Justice Council and he and Kehrer soon realized funding would cease if they continued to engage in social change. He expounds about of the founding of Team Defense and the intent to change the system. He describes Mullen recruiting Bob Altman who was involved in the Native American movement in South Dakota. He recounts the early history female lawyers in Atlanta. He notes that an unintended consequence of Team Defense was integration of women into the courtroom and how it benefitted from the innovative thinking and leadership displayed by female interns. Farmer’s law partner, Kimellen Tunkle, describes starting as an intern and the profound influence Courtney Mullin had in instilling confidence in others. Tunkle recounts gathering information for the Alday case by pretending to be a college researcher and being discovered and threatened. She shares stories about a few of the amazing talents of other interns. Farmer notes the failures of Team Defense were the inability raise sufficient operating funds and not retaining some of those talented people.
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Bibliographic Citation (Cite As):
Millard Farmer, interviewed by Diane L. Fowlkes, 13 July 2012, Y2012-03, Social Change Collection, Special Collection and Archives, Georgia State University Library, Atlanta
1 hour, 25 minutes, 6 seconds of audio and a 53 page transcript.
Original Collection:
Social Change Oral Histories
Social Change Collection
Holding Institution:
Georgia State University. Special Collections
Rights Statement information